Human Rights in Cuba

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Posted on Monday, 04.18.11

Cuba approves economic changes at party summit
Associated Press

HAVANA — A day after Cuban media revealed that a Communist Party summit
had approved sweeping economic changes and elected a new leadership –
without saying what the changes were or who is now in charge – Cubans
hoped to get details in a closing speech by President on

With Raul widely expected to take over from his brother Fidel as the
party's first secretary, all eyes will be on the selection of his new
No. 2, which could signal a possible favored successor.

Delegates approved about 300 economic proposals in an unanimous vote
Monday – including a measure that apparently recommends the legalization
the buying and selling of private property.

Also on the table was a proposal to eventually eliminate the monthly
ration book, which provides Cubans with a basic basket of heavily
subsidized and other goods. Other measures covered seed capital for
would-be entrepreneurs and eliminating the island's unique dual-currency

"The economic policy (approved here) follows the principle that only
socialism can preserve the victories of the revolution," said Marino
Murillo, an ex- minister who has been put in charge of
implementing the reforms.

Cubans were treated to a two-hour broadcast late Monday of Communist
Party committee members debating the finer details of a document that
has not yet been made public, although it is based on proposals that
have been discussed extensively in recent months.

Delegates could be seen referencing subclauses by number and flipping
through pages in front of them, as projectors juxtaposed close-ups of
original and revised texts. At one point, a committee discussing changes
to agricultural laws proposed and voted on a small change in the wording
of one sentence covering artificial insemination of livestock.

"We need to emphasize in the guideline that we should be aiding genetic
development and artificial insemination," said one delegate.

"We are in agreement with the proposal," another committee member
replied, before the discussion turned to ways to spur greater milk

The Party Congress does not have the power to enact the changes into
law, but the suggestions are expected to be acted upon quickly by the
National Assembly over the coming days and weeks.

Officials called the gathering to set a new course for Cuba's economy
and rejuvenate an aging political class comprised largely of
octogenarians who led Cuba's 1959 revolution.

On Monday, an official photograph shot inside the spacious convention
hall where the party confab was taking place showed Castro placing his
vote inside a ballot box. "Candidacy for Members of the Central
Committee," it read. A box that said "Vote for All" was checked on the
ballot, indicating that Castro had approved an entire slate of
candidates, though their names were not visible.

Fidel and Raul Castro have held the top two spots in the Communist Party
since its creation in 1965. But at this year's Sixth Party Congress,
there is an air of mystery surrounding the leadership vote.

In March, Fidel, 84, announced he had resigned as first secretary of the
party when he ceded the presidency to Raul several years ago, although
the party's website still lists him as its leader.

In a speech opening the Congress this weekend, Raul warned that a new
generation is needed to take over when the old guard is gone.

He even proposed term limits for officials including the president – a
taboo subject during the half-century in which Cuba has been ruled by
either him or his brother. The goal is to create opportunities for
younger politicians to get experience, Raul said.

The speech intensified speculation the job might go to someone such as
Lazaro Exposito, the young Communist Party chief in Santiago de Cuba, or
Murillo, the ex-economy minister who has had a leading role at the Congress.

Officials have emphasized that the changes are meant to "update" Cuba's
economic model. State TV repeated Monday night that their objective is
to "guarantee the continuity of socialism in Cuba."

Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi contributed to
this report.

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